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Smaller airline seats might cost less

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United Airlines launched a concept 15 years ago called Economy Plus, an airline seat that gives fliers a few more inches of legroom for a higher price.

It has been so popular that other airlines have copied the idea. America Airlines offers "Main Cabin Extra," and Delta Air Lines has "Economy Comfort."

Now a major airline may be considering another breakthrough idea: "Economy Minus," a seat that offers less legroom at a discount price.

Before you scoff, consider that a new survey found that 42 percent of airline travelers said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to book a seat with less legroom if it meant getting a cheap fare.

The importance of price is highlighted by another finding from the survey: 97 percent of fliers say it is either very important or somewhat important when booking a flight, according to research company YouGov, which polled 1,145 adults.

The idea of a new "Economy Minus" seat surfaced last month when airline blogger Mary Kirby reported that a major carrier was considering adopting a seat with a pitch of 30 inches or less. Pitch is the distance between the back of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you.

The U.S. Department of Transportation does not impose seat size standards. Instead, federal regulators require that airlines offer enough space so passengers can evacuate in 90 seconds or less with half of the exits blocked.

Paul Hudson, president of the 50,000-member Fly­ers­rights.org, said his passenger rights group is pushing federal regulators to adopt seat standards of at least 18 inches wide, with a pitch of at least 35 inches. "It’s a real problem," Hudson said of the airline seating trend. "It has gone beyond being a comfort issue to being a safety issue."

United may have created "Economy Plus," but a spokes­man said it is not the airline that is thinking about launching "Economy Minus."

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

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